Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


What are transference and countertransference?

Transference and counter-transference are central concepts to both psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Early in the development of psychoanalysis, Freud realized that analysands can develop inappropriately intense feelings about their analysts. He quickly recognized this transference to be part of the clinical material, believing the patient is likely to “transfer” his or her psychic conflicts onto the analyst. Through exploring the analysand’s feelings about the analyst, much can be learned about the inner workings of the analysand’s mind.

Counter-transference occurs when the analyst develops inappropriate and intense feelings about the analysand. In the early days of psychoanalysis, counter-transference was seen mainly as a negative, reflecting childish responses on the part of the analyst that were best suppressed and controlled. In current approaches to psychodynamic work, counter-transference is now incorporated into the therapeutic work. When working with either transference or counter-transference, however, it is extremely important that the analyst proceed with tact and care. Direct discussion of the relationship between therapist and patient can be awkward and stressful, and the therapist must introduce such topics carefully and in a constructive manner.


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